2. Don’t spook the herd. Emotional demonstrations are always counter-productive and stifle initiative.
My second rule, “Don’t Spook the Herd” was born of several lessons I learned personally. Back in my cadet days at Texas A&M, I learned the importance keeping my emotions in check as a leader when I took over as an Assistant Squad Leader in charge of training my own squad of “fish” (freshmen).
On the second or third day of our version of basic training (benignly called “Freshman Orientation Week”), one of my charges had done something wrong, to which I responded with an animated display complete with arm waving, jumping around, and hollering. One of my upperclassmen called me aside and quietly asked me if I thought my display was effective. I paused for a moment, looked back down the hall where my new “fish” were still at attention, and looked at their faces. A couple were scared, but most of them had a blank look on their faces. They weren’t impressed, and they weren’t motivated. I turned back to my upperclassman and said, “I guess not. Sorry.” He replied, “OK, now go lead them and make them Aggie cadets.”
Even if you don’t come across as angry, a leader still has to maintain calm on the outside. When I was a brand spanking new lieutenant, I was leading a group of Engineer Airmen on a local training deployment about 30 miles from our base. As I was leading the convoy, talking on the radio and giving orders, the master sergeant who was with me quietly told me, “Sir, you need need to calm down.” In my mind, I was calm, but I was not projecting calm. I learned then that it was important for me to be more aware of how I looked and sounded, not just how I felt. A leader has to know himself, true, but he also has to be aware of how his inner feelings are perceived by others. That’s probably why some of the best leaders I’ve ever known have mastered this skill!
I’ve seen plenty of leaders who ruled by fear, but by far the most effective leaders inspire people to be better rather than being afraid. Keep it calm and carry on.